By Aian Macpherson
Intersession touches on a very significant factor for the miraculous, co-operation with God. Whilst we may be asking God to do a particular thing, there is always an element of co-operation, trust and submission to God in Christian prayer. If humanity has the God gifted authority to invite God to work in creation miraculously, then part of the miraculous appearing unnatural is the infinite complexity produced by interaction. Prayer does not simply allow God to override creation because we asked! But it does open up the option that faithfulness within this relationship of God to creation and humanity could lead to the unexpected.
As an example we will look at healing from illness. Providence and humanity together have a role. Because the world is ordered we have the possibility of repeatable experiment, and medicine. In church we pray for doctors and nurses to have wisdom. In the bible we are told to anoint the sick with oil. Oil was, we know, used as medicine in the classical world. It is not an either or situation. In the example of prayer for healing we are bring in the interaction of whatever we can do (medicine), with an invitation to God to act. We are asking God to compassionately co-operate with us as we co-operate with God. In the history of God’s people the miracle of God and the prayers and actions of people go together.
Miracles happen through a relationship of the creation to the creator. This relationship makes strange the idea that the creator of the cosmos would be acting supernaturally to heal. If we his creatures bring medicine and the natural faculties of our bodies to the miracle of healing, why cannot God, the source of life, be active in the same process of healing? I know of one person who regrew skin tissue at a (according to the doctor) ‘miraculous rate’. It was an unexpected recovery, treatment had been on-going but the wounds would not heal. Then they were prayed for and suddenly the patient went from unsuccessful treatment to very rapid recovery. I would say this was miraculous. But the tissue regrew it did not spontaneously materialise.
In intersession we ask God to act but also open up the possibility of creation cooperating with God. Miracles are not strange because what we claim has happened is unnatural but rather that it has happened unexpectedly. Illness is reversed, life is restored. In this we have a part to play.
Our god like freedom to cooperate makes us responsible for answering prayer and joining with God by living justly and compassionately. So someone asks ‘How can God let children starve?’ But whilst I don’t want to dismiss the heart behind such a question, it is far better to ask ‘How can we let children starve?’ God has given the soil, the whole water cycle, the tools and wisdom we need to farm, the sun light, the right temperature, the gases of the air for breathing and photosynthesis. God does feed us, we have food. What humanity needs is generosity to share and wisdom to manage what we have, not more of it.
At the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand it was incumbent on the disciples to share what they had. The disciples pointed out the problem to Jesus, ‘look all the people are hungry and have no food.’ They intercede for the people. Jesus asked the disciples ‘what do you have to give them?’ Then Jesus told them to share what they had. The disciple’s obedience and participation are the foundation of answered prayer, the multiplication of the bread and fish came even as they were given.
When Christians pray ‘give us today our daily bread’, we are laying aside claims to more than we need and are praying for all our human brothers and sisters, and all creatures. If the church fails to act then we are culpable for starving children. If the rich fail to act they are responsible for starving children. God provides all that we need; we are responsible for our failure to share. Prayers are never an invitation to do nothing; prayer is the expression of desires that we must enact – a commitment to do all we can, and to trust God for the rest.
This may be one reason that miracles seem to be observed more amongst the poor. It is the poor who are in most need. May be miracles are a last resort – God acting when nothing ells will do? But why does God acting in one case bind God to act in another? That would be like condemning a surgeon for not saving one patient on the basis that she did save another. Miracles happen through us and through our intersessions, I trust, when and where they can.